Several weeks ago, John Pavlus wrote an excellent piece, Confessions of a Recovering Lifehacker, that effectively lanced many of the “productivity hacks” that have come to make distraction feel worthwhile. Pavlus writes that, ” lifehacking is so seductive because it’s simply easier than asking some bigger, harder, more important questions about where your time and attention go…the stakes are low” – in short, he writes, if you clear out your Gmail, you feel tremendously accomplished, and if you don’t, you’ll still be annoyed by something that plagues almost everybody anyway, so, no big deal. The risks are low, but the gratification and self-satisfaction are high.
Pavlus’s piece got me thinking; what if, aside from reading productivity blogs, I engage in other behavior that yields greater satisfaction than actual accomplishment or benefit for myself or others. To wit, I live, like most anyone reading this blog, in a world that is a pastiche of iPhones, Whole Foods, bicycling, tumblr accounts and Netflix subscriptions – all of it coupled with some abstract feeling of productivity and accomplishment, and anchored by a need to justify my $65/month phone plan or 20% premium on organic groceries and needless sharing of personal pictures in public space. None of these are bad things – smartphones have made the earth a bit more intimate, Whole Foods steers clear of pesticides, and Netflix brought Malle to the masses – but does the gratification of having, utilizing and purchasing these things actually worth the time, effort and money I spend engaged with them? How would one quantify that? Does having Google Drive on my smartphone actually make me more driven to edit schoolwork on the go? Does reading stellar blogs actually make me more stellar? Do open ended questions actually have answers?
I would like to point out something that I see in myself – and sometimes in others, and quite possibly in a journal of psychology or sociology that a commenter will forward – the delusion of doing, which is to say, the feeling of being productive, healthy, benevolent, or organized, while actually yielding little marginal or realistic benefit. Certainly, shopping organic reduces, in small part, chemical usage and animal mistreatment; but does the gratification I gain from being seen with a Whole Foods bag outweigh my impact on the environment? Does making lists of stuff to do – on my smartphone, synced with my Macbook Air, and shared via Google Drive, and then subsequently tweeted and Instagrammed while biking to Whole Foods for a yoga lesson on productivity – actually do anything? Perhaps, as a certain winged messenger once wrote, “just do it.” To this end, do Prius owners own Priuses because they’re good for the environment, or because it saves them money? Or is it because it makes them feel good? Perhaps all three. And do Obama 2012 stickers come attached to Priuses, or are they just part of the Premium Sport package? And can I buy the Premium Sport package without the Prius?
I have spent countless hours writing lists of stuff to do, and eminently countable hours actually doing those things. But – win-win! – I came away with the tremendous feeling of productivity. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop acting like Neo, from a certain movie I rented – pfft, streamed – from Netflix, where Lawrence Fishburne says, “stop trying to hit me and hit me!” That concept seemed pretty neat. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post about it.
I’d love your thoughts.